Don't look now, but Argentina is taking over the world.
That may be quite hard to believe in the midst of this seemingly never-ending economic crisis, made only more acute by the ongoing global wobbles that continue to rock the world and the thousands of acres of withered soy plants in fields left barren by drought, but in the football realm at least, this is a golden age for the nation.
Back in December and thanks to a generous helping hand from Lionel Messi, the Albiceleste achieved eternal glory on the pitch after being crowned World Cup champions in stunning fashion. And off it, too, that most unlikely of global statesmen Claudio Tapia is making his weight felt.
Not content to miss out on the upcoming Under-20 World Cup after a less than sterling qualifying display to kick off the year, Tapia simply resolved to bring the entire tournament home. The president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), a la Messi, found himself in the right place at the right time when FIFA was rocked by its latest geopolitical headache, this time in the shape of protests over Israel's participation in the competition in Indonesia. The Asian country was stripped of hosting, leaving it, apparently, set to drop right into Tapia's lap.
“Right now Argentina's candidacy is the only one to have been formally presented and with government backing,” FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, who is friendly enough with his Argentine counterpart to call Tapia by his nickname, 'Chiqui.' He even cracked a joke about his ostentatious footwear, explained in a conference in Paraguayan capital Asunción last week. “They are world champions, they are strong candidates,” continued the FIFA boss. And while nothing is yet confirmed, Tapia dropped a strong hint that the World Cup was on its way, telling La Red: “I hope we have a great U20 World Cup, because I think we will host this hugely important tournament.”
The World Cup in and of itself is a coup for several reasons. First, it gives Argentina and in particular Javier Mascherano a chance for redemption after crashing out of the South American Championships in the first round, with the promise of Europe-based young aces like Manchester United's Alejandro Garnacho joining the fray. It will also rekindle interest in a tournament that holds a special place in national history: both Messi and Diego Maradona, in 2005 and 1979, lifted the title on the way to the biggest prize, two of Argentina's six U20 titles which mark it out as the most successful team in the world at this level.
But there is a wider agenda on Tapia's mind. It was no coincidence that the Asunción conference at which Infantino spoke also marked the next phase of the nascent bid to bring the World Cup proper to South America in 2030, the centenary of the original edition in Uruguay. As well as Argentina and the first hosts, Chile and Paraguay are also involved in what would be the first four-nation tournament, competing against rival united (and admittedly less geographically logical) bids from Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Ukraine and Greece, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
It is barely necessary in this space to go over the advantages and disadvantages of the South American challenge. In their favour is a wealth of football history and prestige unmatched in almost any other region of the planet; against, severe deficits in infrastructure, travel connections and justified doubts over whether funds should be directed at them over more pressing concerns in the populace. But in any case, if recent football history has taught us anything it is that the courting of the game's bigwigs is just as, if not more important than the bid itself when it comes to landing a World Cup.
Chiqui's soft power, then, could make all the difference, placing the spiky-haired waste management specialist (really) and ex-Barracas Central boss in the driving seat when it comes to FIFA's decision-making.